My close friend Tomen passed away last week. I could talk at length about Tom’s qualities, our friendship, and how wonderful he was. But this is a news editorial, after all, so let’s talk about a piece of news: this week, the HSE admitted that it had misplaced referrals for 109 patients on the waiting list to see a gender clinic.
In March, Tom published a small statement online. He wrote, “After a year, I’m finally on the waiting list for the gender clinic. I also happen to have cancer. The list is so long they’ve stopped giving estimates on how long it’ll take. The last timeframe I saw was 26 months. I can’t wait that long.” He ended on a heavy note: “I might die before I’m me.”
Rates of suicide, assault and harassment for transgender people are far higher than the average population; studies have found up to 40% of transgender people are suicidal. Many struggle with depression and self-harm, with a considerably below-average life expectency. Of course, the issue of gender transition is considered a contraversial one. It’s been studied academically repeatedly, more in recent years than ever before.
It’s been proven, repeatedly, that those statistics drop close to normal levels with a succesful transition. Conversion therapy and prolonged denial don’t work. Treatment of gender dysphoria as a mental disorder doesn’t work. Letting people transition works. It’s the fastest, most effective way to reduce mental illness, suicide and self-harm in a part of the population— most of whom are begging for medical intervention. There are no plans to change the system.
After years of limbo and silence from the HSE, Tom turned to a private company, whose doctors diagnosed him within months. He was prescribed hormone replacement therapy a month or two ago. He was incredibly happy and excited. He was just starting to grow facial hair, hear his voice change. He was looking forward to the day when he was unmistakably male. The day never came.
Cancer stole away Tom’s future. But the HSE, to their credit, did everything they could for him. They responded to his cancer with urgency and swiftness, provided everything they could as soon as they could— knowing that a slow response could kill him. Meanwhile, 109 people— a huge chunk of whom are suicidal— were misplaced and forgotten about.
How many months of happiness and validation did Tom lose, waiting for that next appointment? How much of his life did he waste with long chains of psychologists and clinicians, trying to convince them of what he already knew— that he was a man?
Tom attended every Pride march and protest for trans rights he could. He was an active volunteer with Gender Rebels. He was training to do more; he wanted to do everything he could for his peers, even when he was sick, even when he knew his time was limited. After all, outreach work is vital in Ireland especially, where every young trans person must resign themselves to years of waiting and silence, with nowhere to turn but NGOs and support groups. The system has failed all of them, just the way it failed Tom. How many more people will lose their lives waiting? How many people are sick, and trapped in that long, long list? Tom was just one of countless voices calling out for reform. In his absence, it’s all I can do to join them.